Challenger Thompson lauds champion Opetaia's 'hearts, guts and determination'

Jordan Thompson recognises that Jai Opetaia has the three most essential ingredients required to succeed as a world champion. 

The 30 year old on Saturday challenges the world’s leading cruiserweight for the IBF title at Wembley Arena, and does so with the memory of how impressive Opetaia was the night he defeated Mairis Briedis fresh in his mind. 

Until that night Thompson, hired by Briedis as a sparring partner ahead of his victory in 2020 over Yuniel Dorticos, had considered the Latvian the finest fighter in the 200lbs division, and on Saturday, after seeing Opetaia not only defeat Briedis but resist a broken jaw to do so, he will be confronted with having to overcome a fighter for whom he has the greatest respect. 

“Big time, big time,” Thompson responded when asked by ProBox TV how impressed he had been by the Australian. “Showed a lot of heart; guts; determination. These are three things you need to become a world champion. 

“You need to be a professional boxer, especially an elite professional boxer; you’ve got to be willing to go through the fight; willing to put it on the line. It was good to see, but at the same time, nothing out of the ordinary if you want to be where he is now.

“He’s world champion. This is elite, world-level boxing. You’re very lucky if you do get a pushover at a world level, but I’m under no illusions, he’s no light touch, that’s for sure.

“I considered [Mairis] Briedis the best cruiserweight in the world. Especially after having spent time with him in camp and seeing how he operated. Ultimately, you’d be safe to say he gave [Oleksandr] Usyk his toughest fight at cruiserweight – him or Michael Hunter. 

“Those were the two hardest fights. Those were the two hardest fights for Usyk. [Briedis] proved his worth, and he’s proved his class, and his level in the cruiserweight division. For sure, I would’ve said he was the best [cruiserweight] at the time [of the fight in 2022 with Opetaia].”

The 28-year-old Opetaia has travelled to London to fight Thompson despite his status as champion and despite the explosive Thompson remaining so unproven.

More recently he has spoken of his desire to be involved in a big fight in Australia, but ahead of the night that could yet define his career, Thompson is relishing the advantages that come with fighting at home.

“I have no interest to going Australia and fighting,” he continued. “I get the whole, ‘You’ve got to travel’, Rocky thing where you’re going into someone else’s back yard, but I just don’t think boxing’s massive over in Australia; there wouldn’t have had that many eyes on it, whereas it is a lot bigger over here. 

“Maybe that’s part of the reason why he’s coming over here. Maybe to try and build his name, but I do believe he’s got the wrong opponent to come and build his name off.

“It would have been a nightmare [if I’d had to travel]. It wouldn’t have been ideal.”